“Fin This age fought against the angular and

 

 

 

 

“Fin de siècle,” murmured Lord
Henry/ “Fin du globe,” answered his hostess/ “I wish it were fin du globe,”
said Dorian, with a sigh. “Life is a great disappointment” (Wilde 205)

At the end of the 19th Century De Jouvenot and H. Micard gave
the name Fin De Siècle (End of
Century) to one of their plays from 1889. None of them supposed that the name
would become a technical term all over Europe and would be used without translation:
Fin De Siècle. However,
there is not one single name for the concept; it is termed „Aestheticism,?
„Aesthetic Movement,? „Decadence,? „Beauty without realism,? „Art for art’s
sake,? and „Art for its own sake? (Prettejohn 2).

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According to Ruth Livesey in the article Fin De Siècle, the term is associated “with those writers and
artists whose work displayed a debt to French decadent, symbolist, or
naturalist writers and artists.” This age fought against the angular and
artificial Victorian conventions and traditions. In the artists of those times
there was a desire for psychic and moral purity. They were seeking after new
lifestyles which lead to numerous conflicts. How to live? What is extreme? What
does it mean to be moral or immoral? After these questions, the first author
coming into our mind is Oscar Wilde. He is the English Decadent Movement, the
English Symbolism and the head actor of his age. “By making himself the
personification of artifice and by his ultimately tragic belief that the world
can be controlled by wit, Wilde become a central symbol of the English fin de siècle” (Coote 556).

It was an utterly perplexed era. People were trying to find their way in
the world. The philosophy of beauty was extremely important in people’s life
and their externals. The writing style became colourful and in all cases it
expressed the readers’ desire for a better world. This explains the apparition
of symbols, metaphors, supernatural characters and plots in literature. A
perfect example for this is the Portray in The
Picture of Dorian Gray which ages instead of the protagonist. Neither does
Dorian Gray find his way out as the murder of those people who confront him
with the real world is not the correct solution.

As stated by Richard Ellmann, the Ninetees which began in 1889 with
Micard’s and Juvenot’s play and lasted until 1895, “were the years in which
aestheticism was revised and perfected” with the help of Wilde. “Artistic
freedom, “full expression of personality”, “the invasion of forbidden areas” became
possible. “Decorum became merely a formal attribute of works of art, not a
question of morality” He states that “people also learned from Wilde how to
shape a sentence and live in style” (288). The author calls this period “The
age of Dorian”, because in The Picture of
Dorian Gray the protagonists talk in maxims. The book contains plenty of
“catch phrases”, “conversational gambits”, “insouciances and contrariness”
(289).

Ellmann
proclaims that for Wilde, “aestheticism was not a creed but a problem.” He
disclaims the expression: “art for art’s sake”, but found the theme of a man
and his portrait perfect for writing about the man in decay (292).

His love of aestheticism and Greek beauty started at Magdalen College in
Oxford where he also met Walter Pater who in 1873 published The Renaissance. This book marks the
beginning of the English decadence. Wilde was strongly influenced by Pater who
believed that we should enjoy every moment of our life. This lifestyle was
undoubtedly followed by Wilde who became a real hedonist.

In 1894 the literary and art journal “The Yellow Book” appeared on the
market. This was one of the iconic publications of the 1890s aestheticism and
decadence. It played a significant role in promoting some of the most important
genres of fin de siècle. Wilde never published in the journal, because
Beardsley, the founder of the magazine disliked him. Thus it is not surprising
that a major corrupting influence on Dorian Gray is “the yellow book” which he
receives from Lord Henry after the suicide of his girlfriend, Sybil Vane.

After reading
the book the shy, modest young men loses his moral sense and transforms into a
selfish heartbreaker who plays with women, accepts only fair weather frienships
and what is more, he resorts to homicide in order to solve his problems.

Oscar Wilde described himself
as a ‘Professor of Æsthetics and a Critic of Art’….” (Harris 39). In Atlanta
a Constitution reporter named him “The Great Esthete” in an article entitled
“Oscar Wilde: Arrival of the great Esthete” (Mikhail 93). However, numerous
contemporary writers similar to Beardsley did not accept his aestheticism
mainly because of his immoral lifestyle.

 In an interview which he gave on a visit in
America he defined aestheticism in the following way: “aestheticism is a search
after the signs of the beautiful. It is the science through which men look
after the correlation which exists in the arts. It is, to speak more exactly,
the search after the secret of life” (Mikhail 37). Wilde himself lived a covert
life so after this explanation it is not surprising that he was attracted by
aestheticism.

In her essay, Aesthetic Principles
in Oscar Wilde’s the Picture of Dorian Gray, Sarah Gustaffson claims that
Wilde uses this novel to spread his own interpretations of Aestheticism. Pater
taught Wilde the basic ideas of Aestheticism in the same way Lord Henry teaches
Dorian Gray about the values of life. Dorian Gray proves to be a perfect
student because he shortly becomes a dissolute hedonist similar to Lord Henry
who strives for finding selfish solutions to his problems.Many of Lord Henry’s
statements, for example „the aim of life is self-development” are Wilde’s own
opinions, so he uses Lord Henry to share his philosophy of Aestheticism with
the reader.

Cristina Pascual Aransáez as well states
that Wilde “was shaping a personal aesthetic theory”. He did not endorse the
theory of art for art’s sake which declared the uselessness of art. He was
convinced that “Beauty was a value in itself” and a work of art puts beauty
above everything else which does not mean that “it could not fulfil moral
purposes” (28).

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